Saint Louis outside hitter Danielle Rygelski has made quite an impact for the Billikens this season, finishing her collegiate volleyball career at the top of the list in various national statistical categories.
Rygelski leads the nation in total kills, kills per set and points and places in the top 10 in aces per set, attacks per set, services aces and total attacks. Her 5.97 kills per set ranks second all-time in NCAA history in the 25-point era. On Thursday, she was honored with A-10 Player of the Year.
However, ask the senior from St. Charles, Missouri if this is the way she saw herself culminating her senior year, and she’ll tell you, with a chuckle, “Honestly, no.”
When injuries to other outside hitters on the Billikens plagued the team, suddenly the workload for Rygelski became even greater, but that didn’t stop her from becoming as her coach Ken Miller said, “one of the most fearless attackers in the NCAA.”
“She’s always been willing to take more than her share of the load and willing to take more responsibility for her success and the team’s success on her shoulders,” the head coach said. “She has taken that responsibility on, and it might be why she has even more exceeded our expectations. Our schedule is very tough – our non-conference schedule is one of the toughest in the country...so with all that she has had to carry a tremendous load for us to be successful, and then at the level she is playing while doing – that is pretty unique.”
Despite the challenge, Rygelski took it on in stride, making Atlantic 10 history with her seventh Player of the Week award in a single season, as she finished the regular season leading the conference in kills and service aces. She will also end her career with her name etched in Saint Louis record books for all-time kills in the rally scoring era and is second on SLU's single-season kills per set. Although the senior says records and stats are not her main focus, she feels honored to be leaving the program knowing she made a difference.
“I came to Saint Louis and I wanted to make an impact and leave something that the rest of the team could look up to and work toward," she said. "I wanted to leave the program in a spot where we feel good, and that our school is a big name in Missouri again, so I think after this season I have hopefully accomplished that.”
Rygelski credits her growth from freshman year to now as key to success in her final season. The outsider hitter believes her serve and back row play is something that has improved a lot and has helped her gain an extra bit of confidence on the court this season.
“I think [the confidence] comes with being here for four years, and I think now I am a leader and someone the rest of the team looks up to. So you have to be someone who is confident in yourself so other people can be confident too.”
“I definitely think she is an competitor, but I also think she is a happy person and a happy player," Miller said. “She is upbeat and looks at the positive side of things and has a good vibe which is nice for a team that has had some ups and downs this year. She’s the complete package and it’s exciting to coach a player like that.”
Saint Louis will try to keep the confidence and winning play rolling. The Billikens finished the season with a 16-13 overall record and 11-3 in conference play, earning them a No. 3 seed in the Atlantic 10 conference tournament. Saint Louis will face No. 6 seed Davidson this Friday.
For Rygelski, the conference tournament is just another chance to add an accomplishment to a season that she describes in one word as “exciting.”
“We got to play some big name teams in the beginning [of the season] and got some confidence going into conference [games] that we can play with those big name teams and it’s exciting to see where the rest of our season is going and exciting to see that we have that chance to go to the NCAA tournament.”